For many, World of Warcraft has slowly become stale. It's no wonder, really - we've spent six years in that world, we've seen more or less everything that Azeroth has to offer. The two expansion packs - The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King - might have added new zones and new content, but Azeroth, the original lands, were always there. Unchanging, eternal. And a roadblock for bored vets that wanted to level up new characters.
That is about to change. Deathwing, the black dragon that we last saw in Warcraft II, is coming back. We might have fought his children, Onyxia and Nefarian, but the grand daddy of evil dragons have decided to take matters into his own hands. His triumphant return tears apart Azeroth, flooding some areas while breaking others in two. The cataclysm is a fact and the world is burning.
There's been world-changing expansion packs released for MMOs before, but World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has to rank as one of the most ambitious - at least when it comes to reshaping the zones that we've known and loved (or hated, in some cases). Some places, like the goblin city of Booty Bay, will be destroyed. Others, like The Barrens or Desolace, changed forever in one way or another - Barrens broken in two, Desolace turned from gray wasteland to green prairie. All while we, the players, can finally bring our flying mounts to the Old World.
It's hard to describe that feeling, of mounting up and watching Ironforge from above (until you hit the roof), or seeing Orgrimmar spread out before you. Even for me, whose love affair with World of Warcraft ended last year, that small touch felt refreshing. Or "small touch" might be understating the amount of work Blizzard has spent on making this work. There's an old video on YouTube, where someone on a private server (don't do it at home, kids) unlocked the camera and zoomed "behind the scenes" - it was not a pretty sight to see behind areas like Sillithus, or the parts of the world hidden even from the back of the taxi-gryphons. But those broken textures and landscapes have been painted over, and now the whole of Azeroth can be flown over.
Of course, flying isn't the only thing being added in Cataclysm (although I'm sure a lot of people would happily pay only for that). Just like in The Burning Crusade, two new races are being added to the game - Alliance gets the werewolves Worgon and the Horde finally gets playable Goblin. And just like when Draenai and Blood Elves were introduced, both the new races get a starting area of their own. The Worgen will start in Gilneas, the landmass currently blocked off by the Greymane Wall, while the Goblins will start out in Kezan (and later on The Lost Isles). No new class will be introduced, but the new starting areas will use the same phasing technology as the Death Knight zone did in Wrath of the Lich King.
For elder characters, five new levels will be available, bringing the level cap to 85. New zones - including a newly opened Mount Hyjal, Uldum and the Twilight Highlands - will offer up new quests and instances. New raids, like Grim Batol and The Firelands, will open up and Caverns of Time will get a new raid instance taking place during the War of the Ancients (as seen in Warcraft II). And when all is said and done, sooner or later we'll be able to face down Deathwing himself.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is being released in December, and even if I'd like to stay calm and cool and not really go back to the game that claimed such a large part of my life... I know I will be back. And a lot of people with me. Blizzard has already released patch 4.0.1, to make the servers - and the players - ready for Deathwing's coming. With major changes to game mechanics, stats and talent trees, some claim it's almost like a new game - positive for some, negative for others. In the end, though, most of us know that come Christmas, we'll all be playing World of Warcraft again.